Life after Landeskog? An analysis of the Colorado Avalanche leadership depth

  

For the record, this article is not advocating that Gabriel Landeskog should not be the captain of the Colorado Avalanche. He has been a pillar for this organization for several years and a consistent top-five point scorer on the team even while dealing with injuries. Landeskog is also always willing to defend his players and is respected by his teammates and many around the league.

But, he is on schedule to hit free agency after next season. The Avalanche front office is already in talks with him for an extension, but a lot could change due to COVID-19, cap struggles and an abbreviated NHL 2020–21 season.

For the purposes of this article, let’s assume that Landeskog and the Avs do not reach a deal. 

So who would then be captain in his absence? 

The Avalanche roster is deep and there are several options, both obvious and unapparent, that could take over the position from Landeskog. 

Let’s examine some of the potential candidates.

Nathan MacKinnon

nathan mackinnon on the ice

Could Nathan MacKinnon be the next Colorado Avalanche captain? (Photograph courtesy of Debora Robinson)

There is certainly a history of having a team’s star player be their captain, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, to name a few. Landeskog was in that running before the Avs drafted MacKinnon the year after he was named captain.

As a current alternate captain, MacKinnon leads the team in scoring the past four seasons, and also leads by example in the locker room. And in the 2020 postseason, he broke a Wayne Gretzky record by scoring 25 points in 15 games. Not only is he a fan favorite; he is also on a very team-friendly deal. And, it does not seem like he is interested in leaving, nor is the team interested in moving on from him. 

MacKinnon is not only the best player on the Avalanche, but he is considered to be one of the best players in the league. He won the Lady Byng Trophy and was also a finalist for the Hart and Ted Lindsay this past year. 

To list a detriment, there could be the issues of MacKinnon’s past anger management struggles that would hinder him on the ice while dealing with calls. He made headlines in the hockey world after barking at head coach Jared Bednar on the bench during a game against the Calgary Flames over a year ago.

But recently, fans have seen that anger be has used in more productive ways. His rage led to an overtime winner against the Vancouver Canucks after the referees did not blow a play dead when Matt Calvert took a puck to the head. It seems he has grown to utilize his anger to make him a better hockey player. 

Cale Makar

cale makar on the ice

Should Gabriel Landeskog leave Colorado, would Cale Makar have a chance at being the team’s next captain? (Photograph courtesy of the NHL)

The Avalanche front office has no apparent qualms about making children (okay, Makar is currently 22) the captain. Landeskog was only 19 when he was given the “C”, so Makar would not be the youngest in team history to receive it. 

Makar is certainly a great player and has impressive credentials. He scored the second most points on the team, won the Calder Trophy and is on his way to being in the Norris conversation. He dictates the pace on the ice and often dominates opponents. 

But, the responsibility of being the captain of a Stanley Cup-contending team could be overwhelming for him as he gets his footing in the league. He has so much talent and so much drive, but he does not seem to have leadership qualities yet.

Mikko Rantanen

mikko rantanen on the ice

Mikko Rantanen poses another option for a future Colorado captain. (Photograph courtesy of Matthew Stockman)

The Avalanche front office has invested a lot into Rantanen. He is currently the highest-paid player on the roster with his AAV of $9.25 million per year and that was not a mistake.

Even with missing almost 30 games of the regular season due to injury, he still finished in the top five of scoring on the Avs with 41 points. In the postseason, he earned 21 points, second only to MacKinnon on the team. He is an offensive force, and the Avalanche have him under contract until the 2025–26 season. 

But one does not often see him in a leadership role. In the playoffs last season, he wore the “A” against the Dallas Stars since Landeskog and Erik Johnson were out with injuries. He is definitely well known across the league and also a fan-favorite, going to the All Star Game in 2019.

Nazem Kadri

nazem kadri on the ice

Though relatively new to the Avalanche, Nazem Kadri may just have what it takes to be a captain for the franchise. (Photograph courtesy of Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Kadri came over in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the summer of 2019 and he has already made a big impact. He anchored the second line, added depth scoring and aggressively defended his teammates

In his first season with the team, Kadri has already earned the respect of his teammates in the locker room.

“He’s a great player for us,” MacKinnon said of Kadri. “He’s great on faceoffs. He brings some swagger to our team, too. He’s a fun guy to be around. He’s very confident and a great teammate.”

Kadri wore the “A” sporadically throughout the season, including when they lost Johnson in the series against Dallas in the 2020 postseason. And, with his own bouts with injury issues this season, Kadri’s absence was definitely noticed

Off the ice, Kadri is a board member with the Hockey Diversity Alliance, and, if selected, could be the lone current player of color as a captain in the NHL. That representation would be very important to children of color, and provide him with an additional platform to combat racism within the league.  

Like MacKinnon’s downside, he also has some anger issues and they are a lot more obvious. He led the Avalanche with penalty minutes this season with 97, several being game misconducts. While with the Leafs, he had two suspensions in sequential postseasons in 2018 and 2019. But in the 2020 postseason, he took only 10 minutes total, showing tremendous growth and restraint, making him a qualified candidate for captain.

Samuel Girard

samuel girard on the ice

Samuel Girard offers another youthful option for a potential Colorado captain. (Photograph courtesy of the NHL)

Like Rantanen, the Avalanche inked Girard for the long run. His contract extends through 2027 when he will turn 29. He is only 22 now, young like Makar, and he is also a defensive force. He appeared in all 70 games this regular season, an impressive feat considering how injured the team constantly was, and achieved his career high for assists with 30 in less games. While he understandably does not get as much attention as Makar, he still reserves respect and recognition. 

After a long time of the Avalanche being known for their offense, it looks like the defense will be a highlight of the 2020s. They currently have a young core of Makar, Graves and Girard, and they will soon get players like Bowen Byram, Drew Helleson and Justin Barron down the line.

It could make a lot of sense to get a defenseman in the main leadership role. Currently, the captain and alternates are Landeskog, MacKinnon and Johnson, with Johnson being the only blueliner. As Johnson is over 30, the Avs’ front office might want to let someone more long-term yet young like Girard take on that responsibility.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

pierre-edouard bellemare on the ice

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare has the experience needed to serve as a team captain. (Photograph courtesy of the NHL)

Bellemare also reaches UFA status at the same time as Landeskog, but he has already stepped up as a leader multiple times in his first year as an Avalanche. When Landeskog was out in November, Bellemare stepped up as an alternate captain. He has maturity and experience with only six years in the NHL. He scored nine goals in the regular season from the fourth line, and was key as a shutdown player for a team with stacked depth. He also showed immense leadership when speaking about racism as the Western Conference protested their own games after the shooting of Jacob Blake. And, like Kadri, he would be the lone captain of color in the league if he were selected.

To his detriment as a viable option, he is the oldest on the Avalanche roster at 35 years old and is their fourth-line center, not so much a superstar. But, he is solid and dependable, so he would be an interesting choice. 

Should Landeskog ever move on, it is a pretty safe bet that MacKinnon would be next in line to lead the Avalanche. But, thanks to the Avs’ depth, there are definitely a variety of options for leadership. If Landeskog was no longer the captain, who would you want to see get the “C”?

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